7 signs that you are ready to take on an Ultraman

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For many people, the thought of Ultraman sounds a little crazy; 3 days, each of which takes about as long as an Ironman, seems intimidating at first (and indeed it should!). Ultraman originated as a challenge to circumnavigate the Big Island of Hawaii using swim/bike/run. It starts with a 10k point to point swim from the Kona pier, ending at Keauhou bay. You then jump on your bike and continue south before climbing up to Volcano, 90 miles in total. Day 2 is 171 miles from Volcano to Hawi, and day 3 is a 52 mile run from Hawi back to Kona.


 So how do you know if you are ready to take on this challenge? Of course I have done this race many times, and I’ve also coached a lot of people of various abilities to success at this distance. So I have a pretty good handle on what is required to take this challenge on. Note that you do not need to be fast in order to finish Ultraman, but you need a strong mindset and a lot of persistence. Here are some signs that you are ready for Ultraman:

You’ve done 10+ Ironman distance races and you are ready for the next challenge

Youv’e checked the Ironman box, but let’s face it, these days it feels like everyone is doing an Ironman. That feeling of the big challenge that first attracted you to Ironman is no longer there, and it feels like you could do an Ironman pretty comfortably. If you want to get out of your comfort zone, then Ultraman could be for you! For me, just that uncertainty of the 10km swim on day 1 felt really daunting, and honestly in my first Ultraman race I wasn’t sure that I would actually finish. Plus, the requirement to have a crew adds a whole new and interesting dimension to the event. If your teamwork is not up to scratch, you will fail!

You enjoy suffering. Actually more than that – you relish suffering

Suffering is par for the course at Ultraman. I have never done this race without experiencing the highest level of suffering at least once, and usually for extended periods of time. I mean let’s face it, even driving from Hawi back to Kona is a little bit painful. Riding it on a bike is no mean feat either. But running it!? Come on! You must be kidding me. Nope, there is no joke here. It is for real. But once you are in it, it actually doesn’t seem that bad. Until it does. Then it feels worse than you imagined it would. Finally it’s over and waves of relief are washing over you. The next day you wake up and enjoy the first of many days being unable to walk unassisted. Other than that, it’s great!

You are able to deal with adversity and unexpected situations

We’ve already covered suffering, which you may think is similar to adversity. But these are different things altogether. You see, adversity consists of multiple things whose sole purpose in life is to prevent you from finishing, and to inflict even more suffering on you than the regular default level of suffering. Some examples from recent memory include crew members not showing up, jellyfish stings,  life-force-draining currents, gale force winds, extreme rain, extreme heat, suicidal goats, erupting volcanos, malfunctioning equipment, road raging humans, vehicle failures, random spontaneous personality disorders, alligators. That is to name just a few. These things come up, and how you deal with these types of things will determine your readiness to take part.

You want to race in Kona, but on the scenic parts (unlike Ironman which is on the least exciting/scenic part of the Big Island)

For many, racing the Ironman in Kona is the ultimate dream. And then you race it, and realize it’s basically a bike ride on a highway through a lava-laden desert. In stark contrast, the Ultraman in Hawaii circumnavigates the entire island, covering 7 of the 8 distinct climate zones (we skip polar tundra but you are welcome to experience that before or after the race). Anyway, it really is a beautiful experience, and doing it by swim, bike and run is slow enough to really take things in vs doing it in a vehicle. 

You have the financial means to do this race

This is often a surprise to people, but wow the costs add up quickly! 

Entry fee: $1500-$2000 depending on which race.

Travel: flights for you and your crew, $2000-$8000 depending on where you’re traveling from. Obviously doing a local Ultraman is an easy way to eliminate most of this cost.

Accommodation: 3 days of the race plus at least 2 days before and usually 2 days after. That’s 7 days of housing that can easily reach $2000+ really quickly. Usually a lot more.

Food for you and the crew. Over and above your race nutrition, the costs for 3 meals a day (for you, your crew, and your family if they come along) adds up really quickly.

Equipment: at least one bike, but you are allowed a spare bike too. One TT bike is already expensive, so laying out another $4k-$8k on a second bike hurts the wallet. You can of course rent a second bike, which will only set you back a few hundred dollars. Or you can wing it and just go with one bike. Most people get away with this, but due to the adversity faced (see above) the chances are quite good that something happens with your primary bike. In 6 Ultraman races, I’ve rendered my primary bike useless on 2 occasions. One was a random tri bar pad failure and I had to switch to the second bike. The other was a crash rendering my bike unrideable, however I did not switch to the second bike due to my body being rendered as equally useless as the mangled bike. 

Coaching is also important, especially for first time Ultraman athletes. You could probably go it alone but you are bound to make mistakes that render all the above costs useless, and all that could be avoided by working with an experienced coach. This could be an investment of $300-$500 per month for at least 6 months.

So in summary, you’re probably in for at least $6K, more likely $10K+ which is obviously a significant amount of money.

You are physically capable

This sounds obvious, but you would be surprised at the number of ill-prepared people I see attempting Ultraman. So what kind of shape do you need to be in?

Swimming: Ultraman has a 10k swim. A 10K swim is hard. For Ultraman races with a lake swim, your swim performance can be quite predictable.  For Hawaii, you are faced with currents and rough waters, which means that being a stronger swimmer is important. If you cannot consistently swim long intervals faster than 1:50/100m, then you should focus on improving your technique. In our experience with coached athletes, by focusing on swim technique they can get to consistent paces of 1:40/100m and faster without any improvements in fitness. That is the ballpark you need to get to in order to comfortably swim the 10K without risking the day 1 cutoff time. 

Biking: It’s hard to measure biking ability in a way that is helpful in a general sense.  Watts/kg is a relatively good way of estimating what it takes, though. A rough benchmark if you want to finish the race is around 2 watts/kg. Of course, conditions could impact that, but for normal conditions that is the general benchmark. For a 75kg athlete this would be around 150 watts that you would need to average on day 2. For day 1, you first have to swim and therefore that will have the most impact on your ability to make the cutoff. 

Running: You don’t need to be fast to complete a double marathon in the cutoff time of 12 hours (a 12 hour double marathon is 13:44/mile or 8:32/km which is basically a fast walk). But you do need the stamina and endurance to make it. Just being on your feet for 12 hours is hard, and ideally you’d want to have a buffer in case things go wrong. You should aim to be able to hit around 11:30 per mile which gives you a 2 hour buffer for the inevitable disasters.

You have the time to do the training

You will need to have at least 15 hours per week available for training, especially in the last 4-5 months before your race. In addition, you will need to schedule at least a few weeks of 25-30 hours of training (not consecutively, but spaced out within the last 3 months). We have had athletes complete Ultraman on 10-12 hours per week, but they were really in danger of the time cut off every day, and that is not a fun way to experience Ultraman.

If you’re ready to start your Ultraman journey, sign up today!

Thoughts on motivation

Someone recently asked me how I stay motivated throughout the year. Pondering my answer, I realized that I very seldom feel demotivated, which got me digging deep into my psyche to figure out why this is the case. Also, speaking to many of my friends who are professional athletes, it seems like many of them struggle a fair amount with staying motivated throughout the season. So why is it that I do not feel demotivated much, and is it something that can be learned or is it just an intrinsic part of my psychological make up?

The answer was not immediately apparent to me, but upon some reflection I realized that there are several aspects to how I stay motivated, or looking at things another way, how do I not get demotivated?

  • I don’t always expect to feel motivated. For example, once my most important race of the year (Ultraman World Champs) is done, I just enjoy Christmas and the New Year without even thinking much about any structured training. In fact, the only training I do is just whatever I feel like doing. I have no expectation to feel motivated, and I don’t need motivation in order to train. I just train if I want to, and if I don’t feel like it, I don’t train! So the thought of motivation never enters my mind. If I did feel compelled to train, that is when I might notice lack of motivation. But since there is no structure, there is actually no need to feel motivated.
  • I have a big goal. My single goal of the entire year is to win the Ultraman World Championship. That is a big goal, that seems to motivate me when it really matters. When those days surface when I don’t even feel like getting out of bed, I just get up and do *something*. Once I start my workout, usually I feel much better about 30 minutes into it. At the back of my mind, I know if I can just execute day after day, I will have the edge on my rivals. Or at least they will have to also have extreme commitment in order to be consistent in their training and match me on race day. You can also have short term big goals, such as riding to the next state, or riding farther than you ever have before. I often throw in goals like that during the year as I think them up. For example, this year (in summer) I’m going to do a ride from Boulder all the way to Beaver Creek and then back the next day; a ride of 150+ miles each way with 25000 ft of elevation gain over the 2 days.
  • I’m also flexible. The flip side of my previous point, is that if I still feel terrible 30 minutes into my workout, I’m going to just stop and take an easy day. There is no point drilling myself into the ground when I should be resting. So basically I listen to my body, but the 30 minute warmup is like the truth serum that helps my body be honest with me! Too many times I’ve felt terrible waking up and after 30 minutes of exercise I feel fantastic, even to the point of having some of my best workouts.
  • I have rivals. Going into the 2018 Ultraman World Champs, there are some fantastic athletes turning up. Inaki De La Parra who beat me in 2016, Petr Vabrousek who has completed 190+ Ironman races, David Hainish who is an absolute beast on the bike. Maybe even Chrissie Wellington, since she’s heavily into the Ultra scene right now. All these guys (or girls) that could be turning up motivates me every single day. I was doing a 3 hour ride indoors today, with 4 x 20 min intervals around half ironman pace. That was just such a grind and I wanted to stop, but the thought of my rivals kept me in the saddle, suffering to the very end.
  • Be accountable to someone. The other thing that got me through that workout today was the fact that my bike coach would be looking at my workout. It would be easier to just get the workout done than to make up an excuse or try and explain myself. Other ways of being accountable could be to be part of a training group (because people are expecting you to turn up), or even just arranging to meet with a training partner drives some level of accountability. 

Those are just a few that I can think of; there are no doubt many more ways to stay motivated. The most important thing is that motivation comes from within yourself. If motivation comes from an external source, such as a motivational speaker, or watching an exciting event on TV, it will not last long. The trick is to use those external motivational sources to spark the flame, but then look within yourself to keep on putting wood on that fire!


My heat prep protocol

[edit] I’ve recently made some modifications to the protocol below. 1) starting the sauna in an already dehydrated state (for example after 1 hour run with no water) and 2) not rapidly rehydrating after the session. You want to rehydrate slowly over the course of several hours. These two aspects will increase the adaptations to the heat stress.

If you have a hot race coming up, or even if you don’t, heat acclimation will be a worthwhile addition to your training program. The obvious benefits of heat acclimation will, as the name implies, prepare you to suffer less while racing in the heat. There is a mental conditioning aspect but several key physiological benefits:

Of course these adaptations are going to help you in a hot race, but most of them are also going to help you in cooler conditions. So these days I actually include heat prep for all races whether they are hot or cool. The video below outlines some key benefits of hyperthermic conditioning. Take a look if you want to dive into that… but let me outline the heat prep protocols that I use myself…

Let me start off my saying don’t do anything stupid. Consult with your doctor before spending time in a sauna, and use common sense. If you have any underlying medical conditions, be sure to check with your doctor first.

Basically, my first goal is to build up to 30 minutes of sauna time. Initially, I might not be able to sit in a sauna for 30 minutes straight, so I break it into “intervals”. I’ll sit in the sauna until I feel very uncomfortable, then get out for a short break, and then get back in again until I feel that discomfort again. I repeat that process until I’ve accumulated 30 minutes in one session. With each visit to the sauna, I can make each interval last a bit longer. I just repeat that until I can last 30 minutes in a single sitting. So for example, on session one I might do 3 x 10 minutes. Session two might be 15 minutes, 10 minutes and 5 minutes. Session three 25 minutes and 5 minutes. And then session four 30 minutes. Once I can do 30 minutes, I try to do that several times a week in the 3 week period leading up to a race.

The thing to bear in mind is that heat prep is a stress on the body. It can affect your workout quality, and should also be considered in your overall training and stress load. For that reason I always make sure that I’m smart about the timing of these sessions:

  • I never do a sauna session before a workout, always after. If possible I do it directly after a workout since my core body temperature will already be elevated.
  • If I have multiple workouts per day, I try to do the sauna after the final workout. If I don’t do that, my workouts after the sauna session are compromised, even if they are later in the day.
  • During recovery blocks, I supplement the sauna sessions with heated workouts. For example an easy spin on the indoor trainer, in a heated room without a fan, heavily overdressed in warm clothes. Or a run at midday dressed in my ski gear. I keep the workload easy, which helps to limit muscular strain but I still get the physiological benefits of the heated sessions.
  • 3 weeks seems to be sufficient for a heat prep block. I don’t do any heat prep during race week since no further adaptations are required, and I don’t want the additional stress of heat prep during that time.
  • Recently, I’ve started including heat prep year round. I’ve not yet experimented enough to know if this is beneficial or not, but so far in the first 4 weeks of 2017 I’ve no adverse experience with it.

Ultraman Florida Win (The Executive Summary)

In business, we use the “Executive Summary” a fair amount. The goal is provide the reader (usually a busy exec with very little time) the pertinent facts without them having to read through reams of information. Now, my race reports end up being very detailed, which is useful to many people, but it’s a lot of reading! The purpose of this post is to provide a short summary of the race for the reader, but it also allows me to get something out there, and then spend more time on the detailed report.  Here goes!

Last weekend I won Ultraman Florida, a 3 day event that includes a 6.2 mile swim and 90 mile bike on day 1, a bike ride of 171 miles on day 2, and a double marathon (52.4 miles) on day 3. It was an exciting last day, where my 56 minute lead was whittled down to a narrow winning margin of 8 minutes. Half way through the run, the projected finish time had my winning margin down to only a minute!

Day 1: 10k Swim 2:48 (first out of the water), 90 mile bike 4:33 (after day 1, 36 min lead)
Day 2: 171 mile bike 8:06  (after day 2, 56 min lead)
Day 3: 52 mile run 7:53 (winning margin only 8 minutes)
Total time 23:22:12
 – Full results here

There was some good coverage around this race:
–  IMTalk episode 501 (my interview starts at 28:33) was before the race and episode 504 (starts 30:50) was after the race.
– Zen and The Art of Triathlon podcast episode 615
– I did an interview with slowtwitch after the race
– I also did an “ask me anything” thread on slowtwitch which is a great concept – basically any questions goes, and there are some interesting ones in there!

Rob Gray and the crew at the finish line of ultraman florida

Left to right: Kevin Coady, Ethan Davidson, Yours Truly, Chris Blick, and “The Postman” Brian Post. Photo Credit Michael Noonan and Bob Badalucco

– With the goal of racing the Ultraman World Championship this year in Hawaii, I decided to do Ultraman Florida in Feb 2016.
– Preparing over the Colorado winter was quite tough. Having last year’s winner Billy Edwards as my neighbor sure helped, since he had to go through a similar thing for 2015 and could give me sage advice along the way.
– It all came together, though, and I managed to win the race with a very narrow margin of 8 minutes
– I was first out of the water, and extended my lead on the day 1 and day 2 bike legs
– Day 1 conditions were very tough (very windy, mostly a cross headwind). My Dimond bike was a real advantage here, the beam design prevents most of the “shunting around” that happens in gusty wind conditions. The aerodynamics make a big difference. I rode about 10 minutes faster than anyone, at very low power (less than 180 watts average, which is the same effort as my easy recovery rides). The amazing Ice Friction Chain also helped to make sure I saved as many watts as possible!
– I was in a new wetsuit (Roka Maverick Pro) which was super comfy and enabled more range of movement than any other suit I’ve swum in
– Day 2 I started very strong. My aero pad came loose on the rough roads, and snapped off after 2.5 hours. Luckily my crew turned around a complete bike swap in just over 5 minutes. They were like an F1 pit crew!
– I went into day 3 with a 56 minute lead
– The guy in 2nd place was running 1 minute per mile faster than me. With a run of 52.4 miles, you do the math! It was destined to be very close!
– The gap after the first 26 miles was down to 27 minutes!
– I had to dig extremely deep to maintain focus and pace on the last 26 miles
– My crew really helped me to get it done, and in the end I negative split the double marathon to take the win (negative split is where you run the 2nd half faster than the 1st). My shoe of choice – the Hoka One-One Clifton 2. Hokas have opened a different dimension of training and racing for me. On a double marathon, the high degree of cushioning really saves your legs, and helps you to finish strong, when going long!
– Nutrition was a combination of home-made fuel on the bike, and Glukos Energy products (my favorite is the tabs on the run)
– I had an amazing crew. Coach Kevin Coady from California, Ethan Davidson and Chris Blick from Dimond Bikes in Des Moines, Iowa. I can honestly say that crew selection is a critical  part of success in a race like this! Oh, sorry Dimond Van, I almost forgot to mention you!

Full report is on it’s way. I’ve gotten many questions about equipment choice, nutrition strategy and about my goals for Ultraman Hawaii. I’ll aim to cover as much of that then.

In the meantime, enjoy some other pics from the race…


Pre-race tune up with the crew!

Pre-race tune up with the crew!


Finish line day 1, the lava bike still looks clean and happy!

Recovery time!

Recovery time in the Dimond Van!

David: "don't worry about me, mate, I'm just here to finish"... he forgot the part about him coming here to put me through the hurt locker

David: “don’t worry about me, mate, I’m just here to finish”… he forgot the part about him coming here to put me through the hurt locker


The day 2 start line – it’s like Noah’s ark you set off 2 x 2

Aero time, day 2

Aero time, day 2

The reserve bike also got a chance!

The reserve bike also got a chance!


Me with the women's champion Jessica Duree

Me with the women’s champion Jessica Deree. Her shirt says “you got chicked” which was true for many of the UMFL male athletes…

Can I turn myself into a “real swimmer”?

Of all 3 sports in triathlon, swimming is the most technique-dependent. Real swimmers will tell you that unless you swam competitively as a child, your time is better spent working on your run and your bike. Some had the “privilege” of swimming 30+ km per week from the age of 8, and others were only introduced to the pool during adulthood. I find myself somewhere in between.

tyler haka

ready to hit the water!

I started swimming at the age of 2, however this was recreational (and for safety) rather than competitive. I did swim competitively at school, but all this entailed was turning up to swim meets and swimming. I never did any training.  I competed in 50m freestyle, breaststroke, and individual medley (only because I was one of the few 12 year olds that could swim butterfly). I also did a bunch of water based activities such as kayaking, canoeing, spearfishing and free diving. So I’ve always been comfortable in the water, I’ve just never trained as a swimmer. When I started in triathlon, I never really swam in training for sprint and olympic distance races. However when I signed up for my first Ironman in 2011, I started to take it more seriously. I was living in San Jose, California at the time, and was fortunate enough to be very close to the Santa Clara swim club, where I joined their masters group. Initially I had no idea what I was doing. They were talking about “leaving on the one thirty”, “doing 400 descending” and “four by fifty with twenty five drill, twenty five stroke ascending”… this was like Greek to me! After the first few sessions I got my head around the lingo, and saw some good initial progress from swimming with this group. At this stage I was swimming between 2 and 4 times a week, for weekly totals of between 8000 and 10000 yards. Most of my swim sessions were alone but I tried to swim with the group once or twice a week. My main frustration with the group swimming was that they did a lot of “non freestyle” work (hey I’m a triathlete, I just want freestyle!) and there was a lot of waiting around between sets. I’m pretty time efficient with my training so waiting around annoys me; that’s also a reason I avoid doing a lot of group rides on the bike… I did my first few Ironman races, with pretty average swim times. (1:12, 1:07, 1:06). I was getting faster by a few minutes each time but never really got faster than 1:06. My main training focus at that point was on biking and running, which was the right place to be spending time. Over the next 2 years my race times improved a lot, but my swimming times (especially at Ironman distance) were pretty static:

Ironman races:
2011 IM Switzerland: 1:15 679th out the water top 44% (my first Ironman, started at the back)
2011 Vineman: 1:07 161st out the water
2011 Challenge Henley: 1:06 77th out the water
2012 Ironman Coeur d’Alene 1:13 601st out the water (broken ribs)
2012 Ironman Cozumel 1:08 299th out the water (this was actually a decent swim, but in bad conditions)
2013 Ironman Los Cabos 1:09 221st out the water (bad swim in good conditions)
2013 Ironman Hawaii 1:07 818th out the water

Half Ironman races:
2012 Oceanside 34:47 441st out the water
2012 Wildflower 34:47 841st out the water
2012 Big Kahuna 27:09 43rd out the water
2013 Oceanside 30:50 448th out the water (short?)
2013 Big Kahuna 25:02 22nd out the water

So I’ve improved a little with half iron distance, but my iron distance swim times have not really improved, despite being in “better swim shape” each year.

After my poor Kona swim,  coach Coady and I were talking about this, and whether it was worth even putting the consistent effort into my swim training, if my results were not going to be much different whether I trained or not. He suggested that we experiment with a big swim block over the winter. He talked about a few principles that he thought would work:

– swim every day
– big focus on pulling
– high mileage and high quality

Then he made the mistake of telling me a story about Brett Sutton, saying that Macca’s only chance of being in contention for the olympics would be if he could swim 6 days a week, 30k per week. I then forgot everything else coach said, and latched onto these words as my mantra for what I wanted to achieve. This would be all or nothing. I’d swim as much as possible, aiming to build up to 30K per week for as long as it took to see results.

The good results came faster than expected! I started with around 25K, and will build up to 30K during January. But after just a few weeks of 20+k per week, my paces started improving dramatically. The key benchmarks that I use are 400m TT, 200m TT, 10×200 10×400 and 15×50 (what’s the consistent repeatable time interval). Longer benchmarks, done less frequently, would be 1000m TT and 3800m straight (ironman distance 2.4 miles).

Benchmark times (november, december)

200m (2:51, 2:35)
400m (6:01, 5:20)
10x200m (3:00, 2:48)
10x400m (6:16, 6:03)
15x50m (40 sec, 36 sec)

So I’m encouraged that the big bet is paying off. It’s yet to be seen whether this translated into good open water times, but I’m optimistic. I’m going to continue ramping up until I hit 30K and see if that makes a difference.

The types of workout vary:

I seem to get faster when I include 2 x “vo2” sessions per week which is basically a set of 15x50m on one minute, coming in as fast as I can repeat without slowing more than 10%. So if I do the first interval in 36 seconds, I stop when I can’t come in faster than 40 seconds. When I’m able to repeat it 15 x, then I try to increase the speed. That seems to have improved my economy at slower speeds too.

I do a lot of 200s and a lot of 400s for my “distance sets”.

I did one “breakthrough workout” of 10km which reset my mental perspective of what a long workout is. I’m thinking of maybe doing this once a month.

At least 2 workouts per week 6km or more

“Short” workouts are about 3km with a high focus on speed/vo2 set

2-3 x per week do 1500-2500m on the vasa ergometer, which is basically a very swim-specific strength workout that in my opinion is much more effective than swimming with paddles.

I’m now ramping up the volume again, and will repeat some benchmarks in a few weeks time. It will be interesting to see if it was a once-off boost or if I will continue improving!

UPDATE: now at the end of 2014, I have some measurable data to feed back. I did 3 Ironman races this year, all with swim PRs. I swam 1:03 and both IMSA and at Kona (people say the Kona swim was tough this year, and I was 4 mins faster than 2013). And then I broke 1 hour to swim 59 min at IMAZ. As for the benchmarks, I haven’t really improved much in the individual TT distances, however my 10×400 repeats has improved quite a bit.  I can now pretty comfortable swim 10×400 coming in under 6 mins for each rep. On the Thursday before IMAZ I did that workout and was coming in at 5:45-5:50 for most of them. Most importantly, I figured out that I can sustain the improvements I’ve made by doing a short, big swim block before a race. So, in “maintenance mode” I just do 10K-15K per week and don’t lose a lot of speed. Then before a race, I bump it up to 25K+ for 3 weeks, and don’t taper at all (just rest 2 days out). That’s the formula that works for me, and I’ll probably stick with that for now. I could probably gain another few mins with a lot more work, but my swim is no longer a big limiter.  Over this coming winter I’ll be doing a lot of indoor swim work on the vasa erg. I think it’s a unique tool that offers some interesting possibilities that a pool cannot offer. So I’ll be experimenting with that and seeing what happens.  Time to focus on getting that run split down now! I’ve got at least 15-20 mins lying on the table waiting for me to take it…

The road to Kona starts now!

I took a short break after Ironman Los Cabos and Oceanside, with several weeks of unstructured training (still swim, bike, run but basically doing whatever I felt like doing). I did some fun events, like the Silicon Valley Long Course triathlon where a marshal sent us the wrong way and I ended up riding 84 miles instead of 56, and I did the Tour of California Time Trial which is a super tough TT course.

TT start – Tour of California stage 6 San Jose

I also did some aero testing with ERO at the Veldodrome in LA, which yielded some super interesting results! Basically the position and equipment changes I made will save me about 9 minutes in an ironman… I might do a write up on that experience but I don’t want to give too much away! Let’s just say, that based on the findings I think we’ll see some different types of equipment surfacing at Kona in the next few years 😉

Anyway, now it’s time to get back to serious training! There are only 4 months before Kona, plus I have this little “race rehearsal” 3 weeks before in the form of Ironman Lake Tahoe… other than that I have no big races planned, so I can just focus on my training. I might do a few local races just to keep sharp though. Oh, and I forgot to mention we are expecting our 2nd child in June – talk about loading a lot on the plate!

I haven’t lost a huge amount of fitness. My swim is better than ever and my bike is strong. My running is pretty bad but on the way up. Coach Coady has me running 6 days a week now which really helps me to get back in running shape. The training structure for Kona is pretty simple:

Swim: maintain form, do lots of open water simulations in the pool, and improve speed. At the moment I am fast enough to swim a 1 hour Ironman swim, I just need to make sure I can do it in open water with 1500 other people… Kevin and I have been doing a bunch of OW simulations in the pool at work (like 4 of use sharing a lane, fighting for position and doing a lot of drafting), which is making a big difference.

Bike: I’m going to do several high intensity blocks over the next 2 months, with the goal of increasing my threshold power (currently around 310 watts, would be nice to get it up around 330). Then August / September do more endurance and race specific prep.

Run: focus on frequency with 6 runs a week, about 40 miles, building up weekly mileage as high as I can, with gradual increases. Once August hits, will focus more on race specific prep, and incorporate heat prep.

I’m a big user of Training Peaks, and their performance manager chart is a very useful tool for me. I plan my volume around a constant and gradual increase in critical training load (CTL), and building in enough recovery, measured by the training stress balance (TSB). You can see from the chart below that I’m only just ramping up the volume now. The pink line is my short term workload (7 day average) and the blue line is long term (42 day average). You can expect to see a decent increase in the blue line over the coming months, with a few spikes in pink.

CTL chart


Mexican Revenge!

Ironman Los Cabos Race Report

Los Cabos

Short Version
Ironman Los Cabos, 17th March 2013
My 3rd attempt at Kona qualification, this time nothing went wrong!
Total time 9:42
2nd in M35-39 AG, 5th amateur, 26th overall
Swim 1:09 (9 mins slower than planned)
Bike 5:07 243 watts normalized power, avg HR 140 bpm link to TP file http://tpks.ws/Lfmg
Run 3:19, avg HR 147 bpm

I swam easy/relaxed, biked like an animal and ran comfortably. I was super happy to qualify for Kona. Although obviously the highest achievement was receiving IMTalk’s Age Grouper of the Week award 😉 see http://bit.ly/AGOW2013

I nailed my nutrition in this race. Here is a link to my nutrition report.

Long version
On November 25th 2012, when I pulled into T2 after 112 miles of biking without being able to keep down food or liquid, I quit Ironman Cozumel without even attempting the run, and returning to Mexico was the very last thing on my mind. I’d had a very long season, with pretty much no break since my first Ironman (Switzerland in July 2011). I had planned on qualifying for Kona at IMCdA in 2012, but was hit by a car 5 weeks before, breaking 2 ribs. I still gave it a shot but I was just not in good enough shape to make the cut, missing a slot by 15 mins. Ironman Cozumel was meant to be my redemption race. I flew to Mexico in the best shape of my life, but I got slammed by a virus the night before. I still gave the race a go, but the GI bug resulted in 5 porta potty stops during the bike and my subsequent withdrawal from that race. I never wanted to return to Mexico, but within a few days, I found myself online, booking my spot at the inaugural Ironman Los Cabos. I vowed to return fitter than ever and christened this race my “Mexican Revenge”…

I decided that this time, I would spend as little time in Mexico as possible, to reduce the chances of contracting a bug before the race. I took all my own food, drank only bottled water, and lived like a hermit in our condo, briefly venturing out only to collect my bike and my race packet, and to buy more bottled water. In retrospect this was all overkill. San Jose del Cabo is much more “first world” than Cozumel – it’s basically just an extension of California including the familiar comforts of starbucks and McDonalds, not to mention a large grocery store called “Mega” which is larger and better stocked than most US supermarkets.

Leading up to the race, there was much speculation on the unofficial Facebook page, a fantastic resource that brought more than 400 of us together in anticipation of this “never-done-before” race that nobody knew much about. There were debates about the bike course elevation – some said it was 3900ft, some said it was 7400ft… and boy am I  glad that I trained for 7400 😉

People wanted to know if it would be windy, if there would be sharks, whether wetsuits were allowed, were disc wheels allowed? What cassette size to use etc.

First of all let me say this was the toughest IM course I’ve ever done (this was my 6th). It’s very similar to Ironman Coeur d’Alene, except the swim is warmer, with less contact and better visibility (and only one loop). The bike is a bit tougher and slower. The run is about the same. The weather is a lot hotter and there was more wind in Cabo this year.

We stayed in a condo in a complex called “Alegranza” which is just above the golf course, on a hill. It’s about ½ mile from the finish, and about 1 mile from the Grand Faro hotel, which is where the expo / registration happens. I slept pretty well on Thursday night. Friday night was different. I was nervous. I’ve never been nervous before an Ironman, not even on race day. I was definitely feeling the pressure to perform here. I had invested so much time and effort in my past 2 Ironman races, made so many sacrifices and put so much on the line to achieve my goal, that I couldn’t face a 3rd “unlucky day”. That night I dreamed that someone stole my running shoes from T2 and that I had to run the marathon barefoot. I duly instructed Michelle to take my extra pair of running shoes and leave them in the stroller on race day in case that happened!

After setting 4 alarms for 3:30am, I went to sleep at about 9pm Saturday night.  I slept ok, woke up 30 mins early at 3am and ate my signature rice pudding breakfast, consisting of white rice mixed with 1 x EFS Liquid shot (Kona Mocha flavor). I got dressed, picked up my bags, made a double espresso and headed out the door. I was feeling really good, and calm yet excited. I walked down the road to the Best Western (one of the host hotels) and just missed the bus. I waited in the lobby for about 30 mins with some fellow athletes for the next one to arrive. After a 15 min journey we were dropped at the top of the road, and walked about 10 mins in the dark down to the swim start. I quickly put my nutrition on the bike, then took it over to the mechanics to get my tires pumped. They inflated them higher than normal (115 PSI) which I’d be grateful for later. Time flies when you’re having fun, and before I knew it was already 6:15. I put on my wetsuit then headed down to the warm up area, a small bay adjacent to the starting bay, the same area where we would finish. I only had time for about a 5 min warm up then walked over to the start. We watched the pros go off and then 15-20 mins later we lined up and the siren sounded! Our long day had finally begun!

This was one of the most pleasant swims I’ve had in an Ironman start. I started in the front, 3 rows back to the right of the beach. I had zero contact over the first 500m to the first buoy, before we turned parallel to the beach for the long 1500m back straight. At some point in the middle of this it got a bit congested. A guy was coming from my right, pushing me to the left, where there was another guy. So I was making contact with both of them (unavoidable). The guy on my left then got fed up with me, stopped swimming, turned around and physically pushed my head under the water. Having played water polo in school, my first reaction was to pull his leg back and punch him in the face, but I calmly just let it go – you don’t want to get agro about some idiot so soon in the day! Secretly I do hope he had a really tough day… The rest of the swim was uneventful. I could feel a bit of current on the way back to shore, but it didn’t seem too bad. I was shocked when I got out of the water and saw the clock reading 1:09. I was expecting a swim time of an hour, maybe 1:05 if something went wrong. But 1:09 was ridiculous for me. To give you an idea, I do my slow “cool down” set in the pool, without a wetsuit, faster than that!

Fortunately for me, the swim is the shortest part of the day, and I had plenty of time to make it back. I took off my wetsuit as I got out of the water, making it easier to run up the hill to T1. I grabbed my bag, ran into the changing tent, put my wetsuit in the bag and ran to the bike. My shoes were already clipped in, and my helmet was waiting on my bike, so I put it on, grabbed my bike and headed out the transition area. I jumped on the bike, and then headed up a steep little hill with intermittent cobble sections until we hit the main highway. As I hit the highway I put my feet in my shoes and eased into the long part of the day.. In the past I’ve experienced severe glute cramps if I don’t ease into it, so I kept it steady / easy for about 5 mins before building up to my race effort. The good thing about a slower swim is you pass a lot of people on the bike! I came out of the swim in 223rd place so I had some catching up to do…

You start with an out and back section from Palmilla to San Lucas where you turn around. The road is continually rolling (with some short steep sections too), and there is no flat part at all. Before long the pros started coming back towards us, and I started counting. Kevin (my coach) had said that I should aim to be top 100 at the first turnaround, top 50 on the 2nd lap and then work my way up until the end of the bike. At the first turn I had worked my way up to place 103. I passed another 20 more people and then was alone for a long time, until we hit the long toll road hill going up to the airport close to the end of lap 1. When you look at the elevation map, this looks like it’s going to be the worst hill but it’s actually one of the mildest, even though it’s about 4 miles long. I passed a lot more people on this hill and on the exposed section in the desert out n back section. There is a very exposed bridge where I nearly got blown off my bike by the gusts of wind, but I managed to hold on for dear life. Then it’s back down the long hill and on to lap 2. I went through half way in around 2:34, so at that stage I thought I was on track for a sub 5 bike split. I had averaged 241 watts, and I was planning on riding lap 2 just above 250 watts, which I thought would get me back a fair amount of time. Onto lap 2 and I put down the gas. Again I was alone for about 20 mins, before I started hitting the small packs of female pros. I was now flying, tucked into a very aero position and cranking out 260-275 watts on most of the short hills. There was a headwind on the way to San Lucas but it didn’t really bother me. The turnaround came in no time, and then I was riding back to San Jose with a nice tailwind/ rear crosswind. The wind picked up quite a bit on the 2nd lap. The long toll road hill was tougher this time around, and I stayed out of aero on the exposed section, which cost me some time but prevented a possible crash! At the far turn around, I almost came to a complete stop because the wind was so strong. I had to get out of the saddle and really stomp just to get going. I saw a few backmarkers still on lap 1 drafting each other here. To be honest I don’t think it was malicious, just a case of survival! There was one short hill (10% grade) and then a long downhill between me and the final ride into town. At this stage I could see that a sub 5 was not going to happen, but it was clear that I had still had a decent ride.

When I arrived in T2 it was like a ghost town. There was nobody in the change tent and the run bag racks were full. So I knew that I must have made up some good time. Unfortunately, the volunteers couldn’t find my run gear bag. I thought my Friday night dream was coming true and that I’d have to run the marathon barefoot! I was grateful for that one day when I did a 15 miler in my Vibrams… at least that was some preparation. After about 1.5 mins, the “manager” came and eventually they found my bag. Into the change tent, I made up some of the lost time with 7 little mexican kids helping me put my shoes on, take my helmet, pass me sunblock, give me my water bottle. I still made it out in 2.5 mins which is not bad, but without the delay I would have had a super fast T2 time.

This is the first time I’ve started the IM run quite high up the field (I was now top 30, although at the time I had no idea what place I was in my AG). It’s kind of a strange experience; the road is empty, and the crowd + volunteers have all this pent up excitement that gets unleashed on you. The crowd support really amped me and found it pretty difficult to hold back at first. I glanced down at my garmin to see my pace, and it was showing “00:00”. I use my avg pace view a lot in Ironman racing because my pace somehow feels different than it does in training. At the start of the run I often go out too fast, so I use the pace to hold myself back. And then from half way I use the pace to push myself harder (I often think I’m running faster than I am). This non-working Garmin was a distraction I didn’t need right now. I tried resetting it but that didn’t help. I still had heart rate and lap time, so I decided to just run according to feel, and manually hit the lap button at the odd mile marker to check my pace. I used heart rate as a very rough indicator of effort. I was at around 156 bmp which is 6 bpm higher than my target cap. But it was very hot so I gave myself the 6bpm “credit” since I was feeling very comfortable and relaxed.

My target pace was just over 07:00 per mile, so I was a bit surprised when I went through 3 miles averaging 6:40 / mile. I knew this would not be sustainable so I immediately slowed down, aiming to get my HR back down to around 150 which I knew would be closer to my intended pace. After 6 miles I passed a guy who I thought was in my AG who was now walking. Soon after a guy in 30-34 flew past me – he must have been doing close to 6 min/mile! Soon after I saw Michelle and she told me I came off the bike 2nd in my AG. Since I had just passed that other guy I thought I was now in the lead, but I wasn’t sure. Either way, I knew that I was 1st or 2nd, and since my goal was to get the Kona slot, I was assured of achieving my goal as long as I didn’t screw it up! My strategy changed immediately – I eased up to a steady pace and stopped “pushing”. The only thing now standing between me and my slot would be cramping, seizing quads, or something else that could result from running too hard. I focused on steady intake of fluids (I drank only Pepsi the whole run), a little salt, and keeping myself cool. The aid stations at this race were PHENOMENAL. By far the best Ironman aid stations I’ve ever seen (yes, even better than the super-organized IM Switzerland). They were placed every km, and were fully stocked with ice, ice-cold water, pepsi, gatorade, gels, bananas and lots more stuff. I took 2 waters at every station and drenched myself to keep cool. I must have thrown about 5 buckets of ice down my tri suit in total. And it was easy to keep my bike bottle topped up with fluids without having to stop once.

The run is 3 loops of over 8 miles, it’s flat and rolling with a few easy hills that break it up nicely. Some people said the run was boring but I thought it was great. On each lap, you run half way down the finisher chute, which is packed with spectators. It’s a huge boost to get the cheers of the crowd to keep you going, and is something to look forward to each lap. I was still feeling good as I went on to my 3rd lap. I just kept running, refilling my bottle with pepsi and keeping cool with water and ice. At this stage I still thought I was winning my age group, but nobody had passed me yet so I was still just running comfortably. About 1 mile from the end, a guy in my age group came past me. This woke me up out of my daze and I put my foot on the gas. I accelerated past him and did the last mile in about 6:40. He must have been on a different lap, because when I checked the results, 3rd place was more than 10 mins behind me, but at least I had a strong finish! I was elated to have finally nailed my Kona slot, and to have had my best race ever, with a PR on the toughest course I’ve done.

The finish area was great. I skipped the food, had a quick ice bath and then headed to the massage tent which was empty except for a few pro women and a lot of bored massage therapists. I offered to help them out with their boredom, and I had 2 of them working on me for about 40 minutes! They were really good and I’m sure that helped alot with my recovery.

There were some mexican kids who obviously mistook me for someone else because they all wanted my autograph, and to have their picture taken with me 🙂

Another possibility is that they had already heard the rumour that I would become Age Grouper of the Week on IMTalk, the world’s premier Ironman podcast!

All in all this was a great race, but a very tough race. It was very well organized and the crowd + volunteer support was amazing. The swim was really great although too long (many of us measured over 4.2km on our GPS watches). The bike is tough, which is fine as long as you expect that (there was no official guidance on the course prior to race day, just speculation). The run is awesome. Nice and rolling which breaks it up a bit compared to a pancake flat course. The only improvements that come to mind are to fix the speed bumps and potholes on those few sections of the bike course. Besides that, the road conditions were very good.

Lastly, the awards ceremony on the Monday evening was the best that I’ve ever been to. It’s in an outdoor waterfront area in Cabo San Lucas, with loads of restaurants, bars etc. around it. There was a great buzz with cool music and just generally a great atmosphere.

In closing, I’d highly recommend this event, as long as you don’t underestimate the difficulty of it. If you want an easy Ironman, this isn’t the right one for you. But if you want a challenging race in a great location with amazing support, do it!

See you in Kona!

Fine tuning ironman nutrition with metabolic testing

It’s often said that nutrition is the 4th discipline in Ironman. Eat too much and you bloat, slowing you down. Eat too little and you bonk, slowing you down or even worse, stopping you in your tracks. In an ironman race I burn around 10,000 calories. The body stores about 2000 calories in the muscles and liver as glycogen, meaning that a minimum of 8000 calories need to come from food taken during the race, as well as body fat. But how much comes from body fat, and how much needs to come from “on board nutrition”? In the past I’ve worked out my nutrition based on good advice, followed but trial and error during training and racing; basically eating as many calories as possible without bloating or cramping. In an effort to get a bit more scientific about nutrition, I decided to experiment with a metabolic test.

During the test you wear a mask connected to a machine that analyzes the amount of oxygen and CO2 in your breath. This allows you to calculate the % of calories that come from fat vs carbs, as well as the total calories per minute. With input from Coach Coady I drew up a test protocol where I would ride at increasing intensities every 5 minutes. I would then be able to see how much fat vs carbohydrate is burned at each different intensity:

15 mins @ 220 watts (steady state effort / zone 2)
5 mins @ 230 watts (lower Ironman race pace)
5 mins @ 240 watts (upper Ironman race pace)
5 mins @ 250 watts (half Ironman race pace)
5 mins @ 275 watts (gradual hill in a race)
5 mins @ 300 watts (steeper hill in a race)
10 mins @ 240 watts (return to Ironman pace after a hill)
1 min @ 300 watts
1 min @ 320 watts (threshold)
1 min @ 330 watts
1 min @ 360 watts
5 min @ 220 watts cool down

The results were pretty interesting – or even slightly confusing! You can view an interactive chart of the test here and a static image with some additions/annotations below.


At 200W, it’s pretty much 50/50 carbs (yellow line) and fat (green line). Interestingly it’s not constant, but shifts up and down all the time.  It also seems that as I change efforts, the fat burn rate goes up for a bit. A good example is as I switch up to 275W, my % fat burned goes up to 63% – so for 2 mins after increasing effort, I was burning more fat than carbs. Very soon after that, however, I’m burning almost 70% carbs.


as I increase to 275W, the % calories from fat goes up!

As I step it up to 300W, the same thing happens. The % fat hits a lower peak, but still reaches 50% / 50% for a short while. Then the % carb rises sharply to 80%


I then returned to 240W, where I entered a good fat burning state again (60% fat 40% carb),  higher than the first time at 240W, despite my heart rate being a lot higher (167 bpm now vs 144 bpm then)240WThen I hit the fast ramps at the end (300,320,340,360 watts), and by the time I finish 1 min at 360 watts I’m burning 100% carb and 0% fat, at a rate of 1600 calories per hour!


 So overall it was an interesting test, yet it was not as conclusive as I imagined it would be. I got the info I was interested in, which was what I’m burning at Ironman race intensities. But I’d like to do some repeat tests to see the results at lower intensities, and maybe another time also go beyond 360W just to see what happens at the max (we hadn’t designed this as a VO2 max test). I’d also be interested in following this test with a run test to see what my metabolic rate is like at Ironman running pace. And maybe a test after 3 hours of riding to see if that makes a difference. In fact there are so many variations I’d like to do, maybe I should just buy my own testing rig 😉


Training update Feb 5th

This week was a recovery week, just as well since I was mainly trying to get over the jetlag + get back into the full swing of things at work.

11 hours total.

I got a few decent swims in and some indoor trainer sessions on the bike. Only started running properly again on Friday. My injured knee seems 100% ok now, the rest was worth it.

A good end to the week today was the Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon in Golden Gate Park. I’d highly recommend this race – very scenic, very flat, very fast. Got a new PR of 1:22 so things seem well on track for the Oceanside 70.3 which is now less than 8 weeks away

Training update Jan 22nd

153 days until IMCdA…

Lap pool @ Virgin Active Randburg, South Africa

This was a different week of training – a good mix of endurance + intensity

18 hours total mainly swimming + biking

Monday long (4:20) ride with 7 x 10 min tempo intervals. To give you an idea of tempo interval wattage (231,233, 236, 232, 226, 242, 246). Followed by 40 min transition run. I was still quite sore from the previous day’s half marathon so I ran very slowly.

Tuesday swim 3000m mainly consisting of 12 x 100m intervals @ approx 1:32 s/100m + some pull sets with paddles + drills.

Wednesday swim 1000m TT 16:40 – I didn’t pace myself very well, I need to work on that. I also need to improve my endurance, I tend to get out of breath in the pool with harder efforts.

Bike intervals (1:10) tempo + threshold. A short but intense workout on the trainer.

Thursday 1 hour hilly run workout. My knee gave issues at the end of this so I cut it short and skipped runs for the remainder of the week. Most likely caused by the steep 3km downhill at the end of my sunday half marathon… just need to ice & not run for a few days.

Friday 1 hour of bike intervals – mainly 9 min tempo (for me approx 230W) with a few 1 min threshold intervals thrown in to “flush the legs” and some steady riding in low 200’s (watts). 30 min recovery MTB in evening.

Saturday I entered a 3km open water swim event. This was a non wetsuit swim – I’ve actually never done a stand alone open water swimming race (except for once when I was 16 years old). The mass start was actually a lot more civil than your typical Ironman event – I only had contact a few times before getting some space. The one thing that did surprise me was the lack of directional skills in most of these swimmers. I had expected them to be more competent than triathletes. I tried to follow a few feet but due to their zig zagging all over the place I decided just to swim it alone, with no drafting. The course was 3 laps of 1km. I just swam steadily for the first two laps and then gave it my all on the 3rd lap. The results haven’t been posted online yet, but I think my time was around 56 / 57 mins which was disappointing since I was expecting to do it in around 50 mins. On the plus side, this has spurred me to work harder in the pool and to incorporate some more OW swims in order to get really good at sighting & direction.

Sunday long ride (192km, 6:20). This was a tough ride, TSS of 374 (TSS is Training Stress Score, which is a measure used by TrainingPeaks to determine training stress of individual workouts and training stress over time). To give you an idea of typical TSS, my TSS for the bike leg of Ironman Switzerland last year was 258, Vineman was 285 and Challenge Henley was 324. So this was a tough workout!

Overall a good week, my #1 goal right now is to let me knee recover and get back to running ASAP!